Peter Hotez, Dean of Baylor College of Medicine's School of Tropical Medicine, has a theory about why there's so much antivax sentiment in the world. It's nice, he says, to offer solid, scientific evidence for vaccine efficacy and safety, but there are too many bad guys out there spewing disinformation.
I have a long-standing disagreement with many of my US public-health colleagues. I admire their commitment to disease prevention, but when I ask for a more direct way to counter anti-vaccine aggression, I’m told, “that’s not our approach; confrontation gives them a platform and oxygen.” In my opinion, this attitude reflects a time when we had dial-up modems. Today, the anti-vaccine empire has hundreds of websites and perhaps 58 million followers on social media. The bad guys are winning, in part because health agencies either underestimate or deny the reach of anti-science forces, and are ill-equipped to counter it.
So who are these shadowy forces?
Investigations by the US State Department and the UK Foreign Office have described how Russian intelligence organizations seek to discredit Western COVID-19 vaccines. One campaign implies that it could turn people into monkeys. This builds on a longer, well-documented history of Russia-sponsored disinformation, presumably to destabilize the United States and other democratic countries. The administration of US President Joe Biden has warned Russian media groups to halt their anti-vaccine aggression, and announced sanctions tied to disinformation and other behaviour, but we need much more.
But wait — has anyone ever claimed they didn't want Moderna because it would make them into a monkey? Who knows! Who cares? He's on a roll. The solution, he's certain, looks like "The United Nations and the highest levels of governments must take direct, even confrontational, approaches with Russia, and move to dismantle anti-vaccine groups in the United States." That is, the federal government should censor antivax groups in the US.
This of course is unconstitutional. Moreover, that it is unlikely to work even if it were implemented does not occur to him, as it does not to all would-be censors; they imagine themselves the beneficiaries and directors of such activity. The lessons learned from the CDC's early flip-flopping on mask-wearing shows no one has a monopoly on Truth. The likely result of such censorship would be more people, not less, asking, "What do they have to hide?"
If anyone were interested in finding out why people didn't want
any of the safe, effective vaccines against COVID-19, the place to
start is by asking them. The Kaiser Family Foundation has done a
series of U.S. polls that are both informative but
incomplete, telling us that some people won't get the
vaccines, but not why. We need more of this. My (mostly
unsubstantiated) belief is that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine
pause has proven destructive to overall vaccination efforts. The
April 13 pause directly correlates to a daily decline in the
number of vaccinations as shown by the graph below (underlying
data from Our World In Data):
vaccine distribution has stalled due to lack of demand. I
anticipate more stories in the coming days of similar problems,
particularly in the south and midwest. This is a serious issue
that deserves serious thought and effort. Dr. Hotez provides neither.